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Florida GOP Seeks Leadership as Scott Settles In

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott must fill a void for a state party still rebuilding its image, and some Republicans are worried he’s the wrong man for a big job.

Scott attended the state GOP’s quarterly meeting in Orlando over the weekend, making the rounds and speaking to party activists about gearing up for 2012. The new governor is supportive of the state GOP’s effort to position Florida as an early primary state on the 2012 nominating calendar and backs the “Presidency 5” straw poll event.

Republicans contend that Crist canceled the 2008 straw poll to protect his favored presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Crist was thought to be positioning himself in the veepstakes. Florida GOP consultant Rick Wilson likened Crist’s leadership of the party to a “train wreck” that caused it to “collapse.” He said that only Scott and now-Sen. Marco Rubio saved the state GOP from complete catastrophe.

“We were very fortunate that we ended up in 2010 with a governor candidate who was largely self-funding and U.S. Senate candidate who was a national phenomenon and the Republican high watermark for the last 20 years,” said Wilson, the chief consultant for 2012 Senate candidate Adam Hasner.

This summer, county GOP meetings will be held to select delegates to Presidency 5. These gatherings are prime opportunities for Scott to meet with GOP activists and build relationships with the grass roots. Scott’s political and fundraising activities this summer will go a long way toward forecasting the governor’s future as a party leader. Florida GOP Chairman Dave Bitner gives Scott high marks thus far. Scott did not have the political muscle with party insiders to install his own pick into the chairmanship. He eventually threw his support behind Bitner.

Bitner said Scott hit the phones in an aggressive fundraising push for the state GOP after the legislative session ended — the governor will not fundraise during session as a matter of policy — and that he has shown a keen interest in party politics.

“We’ve got a governor who is involved with the party and who is in it for the party,” Bitner told Roll Call. “I might be the only person in Tallahassee that talks to the governor more than they want to. I talk to him at least three times a week and sometimes I talk to him three times a day. It’s not that I’m calling him. ... He’s calling me.”

Scott’s office declined to comment for this story, referring questions to the state GOP.

Should Scott not move decisively in the coming months to fill a leadership void that has existed to some degree since Bush left the governor’s mansion, Republicans worry that the party and its 2012 goals might suffer. Rubio is seen as an attractive alternative to Scott should the need arise. Florida Republicans say Rubio has the grass-roots support and political acumen to be the dominant force in the party — if he chooses.

Rubio said in an interview that the Florida GOP needs to advance to “the next level” as it prepares for 2012. But he said the party has functioned well to this point in 2011 and appeared satisfied with Scott’s leadership. The freshman Senator — who suggested his planned political activity on behalf of the state GOP is just doing his part, not filling a void — said he planned to take an active role in the party.

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